What You Should Know about Attorney Ethics

​​Q:   What can I do if I believe my attorney has acted unethically?
A:   Most issues or questions concerning an attorney’s actions do not involve attorney ethics and are best resolved by discussion with the attorney or the attorney's partner or supervisor. However, if you believe your attorney has acted unethically, you may file a complaint with either the Certified Grievance Committee of the local bar association or the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio. A Certified Grievance Committee is independently organized by the local bar association and authorized by the Ohio Supreme Court to act in disciplinary matters. Its members include lawyers and non-lawyers.

Q:  What must I include in my complaint?
A:  Your complaint must be in writing. You must include 1) your name and contact information, 2) the name of the attorney against whom the complaint is being made, and 3) the facts and reasons you believe the attorney acted unethically. You may obtain a complaint form from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel or the Certified Grievance Committee. Some local Certified Grievance Committees may not be able to accept complaints unless filed using one of their forms. So, always check before sending a complaint.

Q:  What happens after I file my complaint?
A:  The Office of Disciplinary Counsel or the Certified Grievance Committee must consider each complaint filed. A copy of your complaint may be sent to the attorney to obtain a response. As part of the investigation, you may be asked for additional information. 

If the investigation indicates the attorney did not violate the ethical rules set forth in the Rules of Professional Conduct, the complaint will be dismissed, and you will be notified of that dismissal. If the Certified Grievance Committee performed the investigation, you have the right to appeal the dismissal. 

If the investigation indicates that there is probable cause to believe the attorney engaged in professional misconduct, a formal complaint is prepared and filed with the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Q:  What happens after a formal complaint is filed with the Board of Professional Conduct?
A:  Upon receiving a formal complaint, the Board determines whether or not there is probable cause to believe the attorney violated the ethical rules. If it finds that there is probable cause, a hearing panel of the Board conducts a disciplinary hearing. If evidence brought forth in the disciplinary hearing shows that the attorney has engaged in professional misconduct, the hearing panel sends this finding along with its recommendation for discipline to the full Board.

The Board then reviews the findings of the hearing panel. The Board may direct that further proceedings be held or may act on the information received from the hearing panel. The Board may dismiss the complaint or find that the attorney has committed professional misconduct and recommend discipline.

Q:  Who finally decides if and how the attorney is disciplined?
A:  If the Board of Professional Conduct decides that professional misconduct has been proven, its findings and recommendations for discipline are sent to the Supreme Court of Ohio. The Supreme Court reviews the Board's findings and imposes discipline. Only the Supreme Court may actually discipline an attorney for professional misconduct.

Q:  What types of discipline may be imposed by the Court?
A:  The Court can impose four types of discipline, including:
• a public reprimand;
• a suspension from practice for a definite period of time ranging from six months to two years;
• an indefinite suspension, or suspension from practice for an indefinite period of time (at least two years);
• disbarment, or the loss of license with no chance for readmittance to the Ohio bar.

Q:  May an attorney resign from practice rather than face Court discipline?
A:  An attorney facing discipline may seek to resign his or her license to practice law.  If the Court accepts the resignation, it will be termed a “resignation with disciplinary action pending.” An attorney who resigns, whether with discipline pending or for other reasons, cannot be readmitted to the Ohio bar.

Q:  Do I have any other rights against an attorney I believe is unethical?
A:  You may have other legal remedies against an attorney who has acted unethically or misappropriated property or funds. Another attorney should be consulted about these remedies. If you are unhappy about the outcome of a case rather than the professional conduct of an attorney, you may be able to file an appeal of that case with the appropriate Court of Appeals. The attorney discipline process, however, deals only with professional misconduct and discipline, and will not change the outcome of a court case, nor recover money for you.

Q:  What about the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection?
A:  The Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection is funded solely by lawyers and provides assistance to a client who has been financially harmed by the dishonest conduct of a licensed Ohio attorney. To find out if you qualify for reimbursement, contact the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection by calling (800) 231-1680 or emailing to ifcp@sc.ohio.gov.  Information about the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection can be obtained from its office in Columbus (website address: www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/Boards/clientprotection/default.asp​​).

Q:  May I file a complaint about attorney fees charged to me?
A:  Disputes about legal fees may involve ethical issues, but usually they do not.  Many local bar associations have established fee dispute resolution committees to help the public resolve fee disputes with attorneys. Your local bar association can provide further information about fee dispute resolution procedures.

Q:  Where can I get more information about filing a complaint?
A:  Further information can be obtained from your local bar association, the Ohio State Bar Association, or the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio (website address:  www.supremecourtofohio.gov/DisciplinarySys/odc/default.asp​). 


Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association.​​

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.



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